CITY BEAT
City Beat
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Former Hong Kong financial secretary’s work with social issues could pave way for chief executive race

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 12:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 12:58pm

Where does one draw the line between food safety and helping those in need? And where is the line between charity and politics? Antony Leung Kam-chung, former financial secretary, seems to be trying to tell people he knows the line.

 Leung recently invited a group of media representatives, including me, for lunch – not at a fancy restaurant but at his office in Nan Fung Building in Central, treating us to a simple boxed lunch. Leung joined Nan Fung Group, one of the city’s major private developers, in January last year, which at the time raised eyebrows as it was seen as Leung’s “I’m back” signal after 11 years away. After Leung stepped down as financial secretary in 2003 due to the “Lexusgate” controversy, he joined Blackstone as its Greater China chairman, helping the US equity fund explore the mainland market while keeping distant from Hong Kong affairs.

Naturally, political speculation started the moment Nan Fung announced his hiring. More interesting still, Leung, a devoted Christian, said he would let his fate be decided by the call of God when asked if he would run for the city’s top job in 2017. The week before, he was invited by the biggest pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, to a roundtable meeting in which he touched on major social issues such as youth and housing problems.

Many viewed Leung’s participation in the meeting as his testing the political waters. Some joked that the ‘God’ he referred to resided in Beijing. So when Leung invited us to lunch, he of course could not escape questions on the matter. In fact, he was definitive in saying he didn’t find it very appealing to be the city’s next leader. “It is not a very good job anyway,” he said, adding he could not stop others from speculating about him.

To be fair, it made sense for Leung to take a high-profile approach as charity needs funding. During our lunch, Leung detailed the latest project he chairs: Food Angel, a fund to collect surplus food and produce free lunch boxes for the needy.

According to Leung, foods nearing expiry still had a “safe” period of three days and were edible according to professional tests. He stressed that as long as there was an effective safety control, surplus food could be salvaged to help the poor. That day, each of us tried a lunch box of grilled chicken and vegetables made from supermarket leftovers. The food tasted good and we were assured of its nutritional value.

Then we were told an astonishing fact: every day in Hong Kong, more than 3,600 tons of “expired” foods are sent to local landfills. Food Angel, with its limited resources, was able only to collect 4,000kg out of this huge amount and turn them into about 6,000 free lunch boxes for the poor.

Leung stressed that, because most receiving the lunch boxes were elderly people, every step ranging from food collection to cooking to delivery needed to strictly follow food safety protocols developed not by Food Angel  but by qualified food safety agencies. Our lunch invitation, Leung said, was meant to heighten public awareness about their work and help raise more funding.

Leung’s enthusiasm for charitable work was obvious, although it’s not easy finding the line between strict food safety standards and salvaging surplus food. Similarly, Leung walks a fine line between raising his profile and being seen as preparing to run for the top job.

Had the 2017 political reform package been passed in the Legislative Council, there would have been universal suffrage in less than two years. A potential candidate for the chief executive position would then have been more determined because he or she would need time to gain public recognition and plan accordingly.

But unfortunately, potential candidates now have more political considerations and hesitations, which only yield more political gossip. The political guessing surrounding Leung is therefore unlikely to go away, not just because Beijing has not made up its mind, but because Leung has yet to reach a decision as well.